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Chicken Salad Gone Christmas | Recipe

christmas chicken salad While much of the world is busy groaning about Christmas in October, I am one of those people who starts longing for the holiday season right around the time I start packing away the 4th of July decorations. No doubt about it, my soul is dipped in red-and-green glitter and strung with twinkle lights. And I'm okay with that.

Like any good Christmas fanatic, I have a rotation of recipes that scream "HOLY HOLIDAYS LETS DO THIS THING!" And this is one of them. If you're not a cook, no worries. If you can chop things with a knife and wield a wooden spoon, you're golden.

Note: pretty much everyone on the planet has a variation on this recipe in their stash (or their mom's stash or their grandma's stash). Adapt at will. It's hard to mess it up.

Christmas Chicken Salad

4 c. cubed or shredded chicken (or 2 cans if you're not into getting hands-on with your poultry) 1 c. dried cranberries 1 c. chopped walnuts 1. c. finely chopped celery 1 c. quartered red or green grapes 1 c. finely chopped green apple 3 stalks chopped green onions salt + pepper to taste Enough mayo to wet it all down (appx. 1 cup)

Now for the super complicated instructions...

Add ingredients to bowl. Stir. Spread on a croissant and prepare to have your bells jingled.

Note: If you can resist for a day or two, this is even more delicious on day two or three.

Southern Housepitality: Become Your Own House Guest

Throughout my life I have noticed certain inalienable truths. You'll always find what you're looking for the day after you need it. The home projects you've been meaning to tackle (ugly countertops, hideous paint jobs, tragic flooring) are the things that get done just before you hand the keys over to the new owners and move out of your house. And when it comes to rolling out the royal treatment, most of us are adept at treating house guests with a sense of pampering that we fail to master for ourselves in our daily lives. No more, I say. It's time to be your own guest.

Southern hospitality is no joke. And while my first year of living in the south may not have sold me on chitterlings, sweet tea or turnip greens, the great lengths that southern women go to in order to care for their homes and create welcoming spaces for guests (whether they're staying an hour or a week) is near and dear to my heart.

If you're anything like me, hostessing a house guest is an opportunity to tap into your Pinterest-loving, friend-and-family-spoiling, Martha Stewart-idoling inner core. In the days leading up to a house guest's arrival, I find myself pressing linens and arranging fresh flowers while plotting flavored water recipes.

As is known to happen, after the guest leaves life returns to it's regularly-scheduled, hectic pace. Linens get tossed in the dryer instead of line-dried. Flowers bloom and wither on the vine. Water is water.

This is the picture of insanity. Over the course of a year, I probably entertain house guests for an average of 20 cumulative days. That's less than a month when all is said and done.  The other 11 months of the year, I live here. I know I'm not alone int this tendency. So what is it that compels us to care for our guests with such joy and enthusiasm during a brief stay, while we forgo the simple pleasure of a pampered life when it comes to our own daily lives?

No more, I say. It's time to become your own house guest. Below you will find ten of my favorite, standard houseguest niceties. I hope you will treat yourself to one (or eleven) of these simple pleasures. They truly can make the difference between just getting through the day and savoring the little moments of life.

Lavender Water

I have noticed that most lavender waters sold online and in stores are often QUITE expensive. (Put anything in a glass bottle with a french name and I guess it gives them free reign to jack up the price.) Here is  a great recipe for an at-home DIY lavender water that is just as lovely as any you will find in the store. Your local Whole Foods is a great resource for reasonably priced lavender essential oil.

Quality Hand Soap

Sure, you can grab a bottle of hand soap at the local dollar store. It will clean your hands and get the job done, but will it invigorate your spirit? For whatever reason (call me a soap snob), I have found that investing in a quality hand soap is one of those unexpected opportunities for a little pick-me-up moment of invigoration. Two of my favorites hand soaps are Mrs. Meyers in Lemon Verbana and J.R. Watkins in Lavender.

A Cream-Colored Quilt

I will admit, I am a bit quilt-obsessed. There are few things as quintessentially American as being wrapped in a quilt on an autumn night. It feels like being hugged by history.

I know some people love to get crazy and colorful with their bed linens, but I tend to be more of a traditionalist, favoring the crisp, clean look of white linens topped with a cream-colored quilt. Not only does it conjure up a sense of B&B luxury, a cream quilt goes with everything and gives me the freedom to change accessories in the room without having to invest in a new set of sheets.

Here's a beauty from Restoration Hardware

An Signature Scented Candle

Find a signature scented candle. Embrace it. Sprinkle it throughout your home. Breathe deeply throughout the day. Feel good about life. I can understand why some people balk at the thought of paying $30 for something you are going to burn, but I have noticed that Henri Bendel candles really do last forever. They claim to have a 60-hour burn time, and I have squeezed a year of fairly regular use (hour-long burning sessions) out of mine. Firewood is my signature scent. It's like having an eternal autumn on speed-dial.

Another favorite candle brand: Linea's Lights. Soy candles, cotton wicks, utterly amazing scents. I pray that they will bring Forest Fir back this Christmas, at which point I will be stocking up with enough to get me through the year.

Quality Stationary

Every woman needs a set (or two..or eighteen) of quality stationary on standby. My suggestion is:

  • a set of personalized, blank stationary for formal correspondence
  • a set of fun, blank stationary for casual correspondence
  • a set of quality thank you notes (because, let's be frank, most greeting cards sold on supermarket shelves are simply hideous)
If you are in the Asheville, NC area, be sure to check out The Baggie Goose. It is one of my favorite places in AVL, and quite possibly the planet. If you're not in the Asheville area, check out Crane & Co. for stunning stationary.

Reading Material

Last year I went a little nuts with Amazon's Christmas $5-$10 magazine special, and I must admit, opening the mailbox to discover a new glossy awaiting me still gives me a kid-on-Christmas thrill. Whether your vice is celebrity gossip, interior design or guns & ammo, go ahead and indulge in reading material for your bathtub bookshelf. Your secret is safe with me.

Line-dried Linens

Nothing smells more amazing that line-dried linens. And white linens bleached by the sun? Utter heaven. Do it. And while you're at it, check out

40 slotted clothespins for $2.30

A beautiful, signature tumbler

A special, pretty tumbler, all my own, makes me want to drink more water throughout the day. Or lemonade. Or mojito.

Yummy Bath Products

What pampering list would be complete without a little tub-side luxury? I realize the above photo looks like a jellyroll gone awry, but trust me on this. Lush has THE MOST amazing bath products ever. And while they're far from cheap, they are worth every penny. And the cost of shipping. And the wait time as they slowly travel down from Canada. Try the bubble bar in Karma. Bathtime will never be the same.

Note: I slice off half-dollar size pieces of the bubble bars to extend their life (and help my wallet.) While you won't get a bubble extravaganza from such a small piece, it is more than enough to scent the water, your skin and bathroom.

Fruit Infused Elixirs

I always get a kick out of the spa waiting area. Admid the zen waterfall and mood lighting, women chug down thimble-sized cupfuls of spa elixir (fruit infused water.) The possibilities here are endless. I like to pull from my garden. Play around until you find a combination that makes your taste buds cheer.

A few options...

  • Citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit)
  • Berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries)
  • Cucumber slices
  • Ginger
  • Herbs (basil, mint)

Now, go forth and spoil thyself. Happy living!



Recipe: Spinach Artichoke Dip

Choke a guy named Artie once, and nobody ever lets it go. (Just kidding.) Ah the mighty artichoke. What's not to love? Spiky outer leaves provide a suit of armor, protecting the tender heart within. (Sounds like a metaphor for several of my ex-boyfriends...) During the 16th century, it was considered scandalous for women in the 16th century to partake of the pleasures of artichoke eating. (It was also thought to be a potent aphrodisiac for men.)

A few centuries down the road and into future, it's obvious the artichoke should be welcomed into all our diets - men and women alike. Research has identified the artichoke as a natural antidote to a host of ailments including heart disease, cancer and birth defects. Among antioxidant-rich foods, artichokes are often overlooked, however a July 2006 study tested the antioxidant levels of more than 1,000 foods and beverages and found that artichoke hearts had the highest level among all vegetables measured. They came in fourth among all foods and beverages analyzed in the study. That means artichokes beat out more commonly referenced antioxidant-rich foods such as blueberries, red wine, chocolate, coffee and tea.

Cynara, the first Myth Artichoke
According to an Aegean legend, the first artichoke was a lovely young girl who lived on the island of Zinari. The god, Zeus was visiting his brother Poseidon one day when, as he emerged from the sea, he caught sight of a beautiful young mortal woman. She did not seem frightened by the presence of a god, and Zeus seized the opportunity to seduce her. He was so pleased with the girl, who's name was Cynara, that he decided to make her a goddess so that she could be nearer to his home on Olympia. Cynara agreed, and Zeus looked forward to the trysts to come whenever his wife Hera was away. Soon thereafter, Cynara began to miss her mother and grew homesick. She snuck back to the world of mortals for a brief visit. After she returned, Zeus discovered this un-goddesslike behavior. Enraged, he hurled her back to earth and transformed her into the plant we know as the artichoke.

A few tweaks to a favorite spinach dip - and voila! Delicious artichokeness with a low-fat spin.




  • 2 cans artichoke hearts, unmarinated
  • 1-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 block chopped spinach, frozen or fresh
  • 1 8-oz brick reduced fat cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup low fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • optional, chopped water chestnuts for added crunch


Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients in a baking dish, reserving 1/2 cup mozzarella for toping. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle additional 1/2 cup mozzarella and broil until the cheese browns. Serve with tortilla chips, french bread, pita slices or keep the calorie count down and serve with crudites.

Thinking Outside the Lunchbox: Meet the Bento Box

Move over lunchbox, there's a new lunch box in town. Meet bento! In all fairness, bento is not technically new. It's quite old, dating all the way back to fifth century Japan. So what the heck is a bento box? I'm glad you asked. A bento is a single-portion packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. Long story short, it's a packed lunch in a lunchbox.

The term "bento" originated from a slang term meaning "convenient."  Traditionally people working outdoors (whether in the fields, mountains, on fishing boats or in town) carried their lunches with them because they didn't have time to go home for meals. These boxed lunches typically contained staples such as white rice or potatoes. The boxes provided a simple, convenient way to carry food and to eat on the go.

As time went on, bento evolved from a matter of convenience to a culinary art in its own. Today it is not uncommon to find bento arranged in a style called kyaraben or "character bento," decorated to look like popular Japanese cartoon, comic book or video game characters. Another popular bento style is "oekakiben" or "picture bento," which is decorated to look like people, animals, buildings or natural elements such as flowers and plants. Contests are often held where bento arrangers compete to design the most aesthetically pleasing bento arrangements.

Modern Japanese bentos typically consists of rice, fish or meat and one or more pickled, cooked or raw vegetables. Although bento meals are readily available for purchase throughout Japan, everywhere from convenience stores to bento shops, train stations to department stores, it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend time preparing bentos for the family each day.

A little closer to home, bentos have hopped the pond, popping up in offices and school cafeterias around the United States. My recent re-vegetarianism has affirmed a harsh reality: it can be a challenge to find fast, vegetarian-friendly lunches on the go. (And this "harsh reality" was all the confirmation I needed to give myself permission to begin shopping for a bento box of my own!)

Below you'll find a handful of the neato bentos (and bento accessories) I have found along the way...

Not sure you can turn rice balls into adorable pigs? No worries. Here are a couple "doable" bentos even the most amateur bento makers can assemble. Click the image for the recipe...

RECIPE: Grandma Maxine's Chocolate Sheet Cake

This is my grandma Maxine. The one on the right, in the pink. Technically she is my "step-grandmother," but nothing about her has ever felt "step" to me. I can say with great certainty that Maxine is one of the best cooks in our family, possibly the country, maybe even the world and/or entire universe. I am biased, of course...but seriously, it's true. Arriving at my grandparents' doorstep, two things were a certainty:  you'd be greeted with a warm welcome and you'd leave with a happy belly. Hash, Homemade chicken and noodles. And my personal favorite, Chocolate Sheet Cake.

I was lounging around in bed this morning listening to NPR (a favorite weekend past-time) and stumbled across this great story from Mo Rocca. Regretful over the passing of his grandmother, Rocca set out across the globe and into the kitchens of the truest culinary masters: grandparents. Along the way he learned as much about life and love as he did about cooking. Click here to listen to the story.

I promise this blog isn't always going to focus on grandparents, but coming off the heels of "Life, Death and a Dinner Table," it felt too timely not to share. Happy listening - and happy weekend!

ps: A little gift from my recipe stash to yours. This is one of those recipes that is deceptively simple. There are no glamorous ingredients. It reads like something off a pilgrim's grocery list. It doesn't even look that special when it's complete. But I can pretty much guarantee as soon as you life the fork to your mouth it will change your life, leaving you with a whole new appreciation for the wonders of baking. All other cakes will become instantly inferior. You may even be tempted to hide it from house guests so you don't have to share. Yes. It is THAT good.

Grandma Maxine's Chocolate Sheet Cake


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa (heaping!)
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 whole eggs (beaten!)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • 1-3/4 stick butter
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa (heaping!)
  • 6 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pound powdered sugar (minus 1/2 cup)

DIRECTIONS In your favorite mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt.

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add in cocoa. Stir together. Add boiling water, allowing mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour liquid mixture over flour mixture. Stir lightly to cool.

In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, vanilla, baking soda and beaten eggs. Stir buttermilk mixture into chocolate mixture. Pour into sheet cake pan and bake at 350-degrees for 20 minutes.

While cake is baking, prepare the icing. Melt butter in a saucepan adding cocoa. Stir to combine, then turn off heat. Add milk, vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir. Pour over warm cake. Optional: garnish with pecans.

Slice cake into squares. Pour yourself a glass of milk. Eat and enjoy.

Recipe: Tart on Tart Pie

There are two kinds of people I simply don't trust in life: 1) People who don't like dogs. 2) People who choose cake over pie. If you fall into either of those categories, stop reading this post now and seek immediate treatment. Assuming you like dogs and pie (or at least pie) continue reading.

In the world of fruit pies an eternal struggle has been going on for centuries: cherry vs apple. It's fair to say this epic battle has not only resulted in the dissolution of friendships and marriages, it has lead to some disappointing dinners as well.

In order to settle the debate once and for all, I have devised a solution. I like to think of it as a little "Tart on Tart" action. So with no further ado, I give you Tart-on-Tart Apple Cherry Pie.


Tart-on-Tart Apple Cherry Pie


CRUST 1 pre-made frozen crust. I simply can't bring myself to battle homemade crust. If you are a masochist, a quick google should provide plenty of crust recipes. And maybe after you master that impossible skill, you can teach me how to fold a fitted sheet, too.

FILLING 1-2 cans tart cherries, drained 3 tart apples, peeled and sliced (I use granny smiths, but you can mix it up) 1/2 cup sugar 2 T. flour 2 t. cinnamon 1 t. nutmeg pinch of ground cloves

TOPPING 3/4 cup oatmeal 3/4 cup brown sugar 3/4 cup flour 6 T. butter, chilled and cubed 3 t. cinnamon

DIRECTIONS Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine cherries, apples and dry filling ingredients in a bowl. Stir and spoon into crust.

In another bowl, mix together topping flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter cubes using your hands to blend the butter into the dry mixture. If the mixture is excessively greasy, add more flour. If mixture is too dry, cut in more butter. Lightly pack topping over the filling and place pie on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. Bake pie until topping is golden (approximately 35 minutes. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Reduce oven temperature to 350F. Continue baking until apples in center of pie are tender when pierced with a fork and filling is bubbly and thick at pie edges (approximately 25-35 minutes.) Cool and serve.

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